I’ll confess. I’ve been watching YouTube videos of art studios as I reorganize my own studio. January definitely seems to be the month to reorganize and get ready for a new year. My office—my writing and working space— is already organized and working well but I do love looking at other people’s work
One of my treasures is The Writer’s Desk, a book of duotone photographs of writers in their private workspaces taken by renowned author photographer, Jill Krementz. Next to each photograph is a paragraph or two written by each writer talking about how they do what they do. Krementz features fifty-five authors, including her husband, the late Kurt Vonnegut.
The photographs tell us more about the writers than the words ever could. For instance, Krementz captured that unforgettable Eudora Welty profile in 1972, against a sunny window as Miss Eudora sits at her desk in the bedroom typing on a manual typewriter. We can see the foot of her unmade bed– billows of white linen. Eudora Welty confessed that she rose early each day, got a cup of coffee and breakfast and settled in to work, hoping not to be interrupted for the whole day.
The photograph of Saul Bellow, taken in 1995, shows him standing at a drafting table, writing in longhand on a pad of paper. He said, “I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”
Dorothy West, one of the members of the Harlem Renaissance, sits on a plastic lawn chair in front of a bulletin board overflowing with notes and a delightful fluttering hodge-podge of papers. She says, “I’m a writer. I don’t cook and I don’t clean. . . Dear child, this place is a mess– my papers are everywhere. It would be exhausting to clean up.”
John Irving leans back in a leather chair, hands steepled in thought. His office is organized and spacious with a wall of windows looking out on the Vermont landscape. His writing habits? He says that he has no routine but is compulsive about writing. In the beginning of a book, the work is tedious and exacting, and he only works two or three hours a day. In the middle, he gallops, writing “eight, nine, twelve hours, seven days a week.” Then as he nears the end, he goes back to those two- to three-hour days. He says, “Finishing, like beginning is more careful work.”
Stephen King, in a photograph taken in 1995, has his feet up on his desk, writing on a pad balanced on his lap. His corgi sits under his chair, looking straight at the camera. The room has piles and piles of books and files on every surface. His style? “I don’t take notes; I don’t outline; I don’t do anything like that. I just flail away at the [#@*#!] thing. . . I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can’t sell it as caviar.”
So tell us, what does your workspace look like? What about your work habits? Do you have regular writing times? A set number of pages per day? Do you use a computer for everything or do you start with pen and paper? (And does the kind of pen matter?)
Kristen Joy Wilks
What delightful photos, Wendy! I love hearing about these famous authors and their varying workspaces. So, I live in a 2 bedroom apartment at a Bible camp with my husband, 3 teen sons, and a 113lb Newfoundland dog. No room for an office. My husband shares a nook at the top of the stares with our oldest son to hold office supplies and uses his corner of the couch to sit and work. I am blessed with a giant reclined chair and three adorable shelves on the wall beside it to hold books and coffee. I have a lap desk for my laptop. I usually write early in the morning, but I’m taking a break to work on some promo stuff and our 2021 family photo album!
Love this insight. I use a computer for my character interviews and for writing. I also use pen and paper for notes. I try to write a scene a day or every other day. I’m finding I often need a day in between writing to brainstorm and settle on a direction for the next scene. I write at my desk overlooking our back property and often get greeted by squirrels or birds or foxes. And my favorite coffee shop provides the perfect setting to write, which basically means no one talks to me there.
How interesting! Thanks for sharing that 🙂
I’m still chuckling over Stephen King’s salami approach, LOL!
With the Smart Phone in my hand
I do the writing biz
wherever I may come to land;
I write from where I is,
from where I read the latest blog
that brings my inspiration,
so parked by Belle the Service Dog,
I start my preparation
by asking her what she may think,
perhaps, of writing spaces.
The query here did make her blink,
and pull some funny faces
before her answer made me laugh,
which was to go nap in the bath.
Probably should say that my writing of sonnets is always (except for my own blog) in the form of responses to others’ blog writings.
Belle, part husky and part timber wolf, looks rather like a plush toy dog one might win at a fun-fair.
This is so encouraging. I LOVE these images.
Some time ago, my husband made the suggestion to move my spaghetti sauce-stained books and peanut butter smudged notes from the dining room table to the basement. I got crabby. “I need light to write.” I said. I hated the thought of moving to the belly of my home, to a catacomb. Who finds inspiration in a basement? I reluctantly agreed, purchased a glass-top, adjustable desk and put it in front of an egress window in the family room.
I come here most mornings before the kids get up. I try to spend a couple of hours with God and my notes. As I write, I notice my neighbor’s leafless oaks reflect upside down next to my journal and fancy quill pen, next to the open laptop. It’s a strange world where I see the sky when I look down and the ground when I look up.
The other day, a little critter had fallen into the well and stared at me from behind the glass. I knew if I didn’t want to look at shrew skeletons later, I had to get him out.
Later in the morning, with cold hands and a hot will, I built him an escape route.
Today, I am grateful for the basement. I have come to love this strange and unusual place. Despite my hesitations, it has become a comfortable place to let my words find a way out.
Thanks again for the post… So inspiring!
Heidi, this is for you. I hope it catches the spirit of your comment, and catches your heart.
Writing in the catacomb;
will it be what it seems,
a place where I shall be alone,
the dungeon of my dreams?
The sky below, reflected
in the table-glass,
reversal thus perfected
as I look up to grass.
But like the trapped and frightened shrew,
words from here will grow
and though at first I had no clue
I have now come to know
that the richest heart-made soil
steeps in my subsurface toil.
Andrew … you brain … how does it do that???? Your words caught both, my spirit and heart. THANK YOU!
Heidi, the grace of your storytelling, speaking of banishment and rescue and a new beginning, caught me and simply wouldn’t let go.
Love this, Wendy!”
Yellow post-it notes abound…mostly to remind me to do things, like make that phone call, take the chicken out of the freezer, or download that book to my Kindle.
Writing is done on my laptop. My handwriting has become so bad even I can’t read it…and it’s tedious.
My office space is the room my mother occupied for a couple of years when we took care of her. We added the room on to our house for her. It’s a gift to write here. She passed away the year I published my first book; she never got to see it here, but I know she knows. She’s the parent who gifted me with a love for literature and reading.
The space is pleasantly cluttered with her teacup collection, pictures of my family, two long tables, a writing desk my husband bought me when I retired from my day J.O.B., and the tools I need to write.
I have no real system. I write and edit what’s in front of me until around 2PM, then read for the rest of the day. There are titles and first pages in a file on my laptop, two finished and edited manuscripts, and story ideas overflowing.
I love my life. 🙂
I’m with Saul Bellow on this, though not actually at a drafting table. Sometimes a hard canvas board if I’m not near my desk in the corner of my bedroom. I do have to write a plot outline (keeping it simple, but something to give me direction) and my first draft in long hand. Something between the flow of word formation that helps my thought process… How lovely is the art of writing; thank you for the topic, Wendy.
My workspace is usually the computer room in the basement, what I affectionately call “The Dungeon”. It’s a bit chilly but not the least dreary, as it’s a walk-out basement. Between the blind slats I look out on the Ozark forest in the hollow behind our house. Right now it’s a mess. I spent a good chunk of the last year writing a church history book for our church’s Centennial. That’s done. I need a couple of weeks to organize my research notes, then I can take all the boxes of archives back to the church, better organized than when I got them.
When writing, I generally shoot for 1,000 words at a time, but really just write until other duties in live require me to stop. Usually, I have thought ahead to enough to be able to achieve that, if not a little more.
What a lovely post, Wendy! Your beautiful words paint the pictures of those photos so clearly.
I’ve loved reading the sharing of other writers’ workspaces in this community too. 🙂 Mine is the desk my husband graciously dedicated to my work in our little office/library/cat room. His giving it to me means his own office is the dresser in our bedroom, where he has worked through much of the pandemic with rarely a complaint. It helps that the little room where I work has a child gate :), so that I can write (and teach online) undisturbed by our toddler if needed, though I actually rarely write when he’s awake…those precious quiet hours late at night and early in the morning have become my writing friend, as for so many others. 🙂